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Armenian Airline Delays Direct Flights To U.S.

Armavia's new Airbus A320

Armavia's new Airbus A320

YEREVAN -- Armenia's national airline has postponed a long-awaited launch of direct flights to the United States, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The private airline Armavia and the Armenian government are blaming each other for the delay.

The flights were initially to have begun late last year, and the start was then postponed to this spring.

A direct flight service between the countries was made possible by a U.S.-Armenian "open skies" agreement that was signed in November 2008 and went into effect in June 2009.

The Armenian government's Civil Aviation Department said in June 2009 that Armavia would soon apply to the U.S. Transportation Department for a license to fly to New York and Los Angeles. The head of the department, Artyom Movsisian, was confident the company would gain approval by the end of 2009 after a visit to Yerevan by U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspectors.

But the inspection has still not taken place. Neither the Civil Aviation Department nor Armavia gave a clear explanation when contacted by RFE/RL.

"The state's involvement in this matter has come to an end," said Nelly Charchinian, a spokeswoman for the civil aviation authority. "It is Armavia's responsibility to deal with the remaining issues."

Armavia spokeswoman Nana Avetisova said the airline needs the FAA assessment before it can begin flights.

"In essence, Armavia is ready to start flights to Los Angeles and New York," she said. "However, the issue is related to [Armenia's] Civil Aviation Department and the [Yerevan] airport because the U.S. side was supposed to give clearance to the flights only after its inspections aimed at ascertaining whether the airport is prepared for the service."

Avetisova also confirmed that Armavia has yet to acquire long-haul passenger jets used in trans-Atlantic flights. "Our management keeps saying that we will definitely acquire a plane for trans-Atlantic flights this year," she said. "But that probably depends on the [U.S.] flight permissions."

The Armavia fleet currently consists of eight mostly Western-made aircraft flying to some 30 destinations in Europe, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. One of them, an Airbus A320 jet, was purchased and went into service last week.

Armavia Director-General Norayr Belluyan told journalists on May 7 that the company plans to acquire two more airplanes by the end of this year.

The planned trans-Atlantic flights will allow thousands of Armenians traveling to and from the United States each year to avoid lengthy layovers at European airports.

There are an estimated 1.5 million ethnic Armenians living in the United States.